One sure sign that vacation is over: When you come back to work and there are 300 e-mails in your inbox waiting to be looked at. Most are from the deposed prince of Nigeria wanting to access my bank account … but thankfully some are from legitimate musicians scheduled to make an appearance in the Gorge.
I’d like to highlight two shows this week that you should be aware of, in case you need to go see the latest in the folk/country/bluegrass world.
Hopefully you saw the listing in my column last week — Chris Kokesh will be playing in The Dalles on March 24 (that’s tonight) at 7 p.m.
You may know Kokesh as the fiddle player from the band Misty River. Nowadays, she’s on a solo tour with a new album. But what’s really exciting here is the band she recorded with — which happens to be the band she’s bringing to the show at the Civic Auditorium.
The new ensemble, Brokentop, features some premier Northwest talent — Dale Adkins (guitar) and Jeff Smith (mandolin).
Adkins is an award-winning flatpicker who has been known to team up with Dan Crary. He played with True North, Out of the Blue, and Dr. Corn’s Bluegrass Remedy.
Smith was a longtime member of the Sam Hill bluegrass band and is a most sought-after mandolin player.
This band, also featuring Suzane Pearce on bass, combined with Kokesh’s new release, “October Valentine,” should make for a very interesting show.
Interview with Chris Kokesh
1. From what I've read, you assembled Brokentop in 2009 for her solo CD, "October Valentine," and now the band is heading out with her this month in support. How serious is this band getting towards being a full time deal? Will we be seeing Brokentop on the summer bluegrass festival circuit?
Actually, Dale and Suzanne "assembled" Brokentop just before I started recording at Dale's. In February 2009 they asked if I wanted to play in a trio with them. Of course, I jumped at the chance, but we put those plans on hold while I made my CD.
Sometime during the recording process they asked if I wanted to ask Jeff Smith to join us on mandolin. Yes! Right now the band's shows are in support of my new CD, but we will also do shows later this year that are more bluegrass-focused, and we will hopefully record a band CD this year, too.
2. What band did Suzanne Pearce (bass) play in before?
Suzanne is still a member of True North, and before that was a member of the Knott Brothers. I can't even remember when I met Suzanne — it's been a while! I do know that we were at IBMA together in 2000 when the Knott Bros. were finalists in a national bluegrass band contest and Misty River was there trying to get gigs!
3. It's always interesting to see what musical directions happen when folks have to move on from established bands. For instance, you played in Misty River, but you list Colin Hay as an artist that influenced your new CD. What other artists have influenced this band - one's that folks may be surprised to learn about?
We have material from lots of different sources because everyone is interested in different kinds of music. I tend to listen to folk singer/songwriters as does Suzanne. She and Dale also tend to find old traditional songs (Doc Boggs recordings are favorites right now) and then reinterpret the chords.
4. The show on March 24 is billed as a CD release for Chris. Will this be the first public show for Brokentop too?
No, it's our third! We played CD release concerts in Eugene, OR and Ridgefield, WA in February. What is funny is that after our show in Eugene it suddenly hit me- "That was our first show as a band!" It felt so natural, I hadn't even realized we had never performed together before!
5. Jeff and Dale are some serious pickers for mandolin and guitar. Will any new instrumentals debut?
It is amazing to hear Dale and Jeff together. We will definitely play one of Dale's new original tunes on Wednesday, and I imagine more and more will make it into our repertoire.
6. It seems that this CD project went together in a pretty short amount of time. What was the chemistry like for the band to do this project?
I recorded this project at Dale's studio because I had worked with him several times and I knew how creative and relaxed he is in the studio. Everyone had great ideas, approached each song with open minds, and worked really hard to make it sound great. And it does. I love this CD. I am so grateful to these musicians!
Ok thanks again for your time and good luck with the show.
Second, we have two celebrated “country-folk” artists coming to Hood River on Friday, March 26.
Rita Hosking just released her third CD. She says that this time, she had the songs produced so that the “songs have a chance” to be heard they way she wants you to hear them. And if the clips on the Web are any indication, I’d say she achieved that and more. It’s a very nice sounding record.
Also on the bill is Rachel Harrington. Take a look at her Web site, you won’t be disappointed. A world traveler, Harrington’s Oregon roots run deep, but catch her here before she’s off to the UK this summer.
Interview with Rita Hosking
1. I just listened to the song previews for “Come Sunrise,” your new album, and I must say, I'm really impressed. How does this material compare with the other two releases?
Thanks! I recorded “Come Sunrise” in Austin, Texas, with producer and guitar player Rich Brotherton (Robert Earl Keen Band). This time around I wanted to get the help of an experienced producer, as well as a top-notch studio for the best sound quality.
You could sum it up as a desire to have my songs treated like the songs of so many well-known Americana artists — I wanted to give them that chance. Rich used his studio and band friends — Lloyd Maines, Warren Hood, Glenn Fukunaga, Danny Barnes, and so on.
My record before that, “Silver Stream,” is more the sound of my band (as we sounded in 2007) doing lots of my songs and a few covers in a live sort of way. 2005's “Are You Ready?” was my debut, with lots of great songs that had been stewing for sometime, but perhaps with less expertise in song arrangement.
2. You won't have a full band for the Hood River show, but you'll be teamed up with Rachel Harrington, who you've been touring with this year. Will you guys work together for the whole show or do you each do a set and then collaborate for a few songs?
For the last few shows, we have each played our own sets, but we invite each other up to sing on a couple songs. We're enjoying singing with each other very much — it's still a new thing.
3. Talk a little about the song-writing process for you. Is it music first or lyrics?
I would say that it is often both together — a melody and a short lyric.
Many times the melody wins over and the lyrics change, however. There were times early on where I wrote tons of lyrical material and then found a melody to fit, but I rarely find myself doing that anymore. I'm usually looking for a few words and bit of melody that fit together, some kind of seed that can grow. It usually sounds like half-nonsense until I have time to sit down and flesh out the lyrics.
4. It's apparent that you bring some bluegrass flavor into your music. Who inspires you from this genre nowadays?
Oh let's see, Hazel Dickens is my favorite bluegrass writer. However, I'd argue that although she's known as a “pioneering woman in bluegrass,” she is just as much old-time country.
All those genres crisscross all the time. I sometimes find myself being told I'm “too folky” for the bluegrass festival, or “too bluegrassy” for the folk festival. I don't like confining myself to any genre, nor do most musicians, I'd wager. The audience knows good music, albeit “this” or “that.”
5. I'm sure you've heard this before, but your voice sounds a lot like Gillian Welch. Have you ever sat down and played music with her?
No, haven't done that. She's great, and she and Dave (Rawlings) are amazing performers; I love their depth and simplicity.
6. Your touring schedule indicates that you've got some UK gigs coming up, so I'm betting you've toured there before. What's it like touring in the UK vs. the USA?
I haven't toured there yet. This summer will be my first time in the U.K.
I've heard that there is a really supportive community there for roots music, although they are being hit hard by the recession, as we all are.
I've been really pleased with the airplay and reviews that “Come Sunrise” has received there. Now, Rachel Harrington has performed there quite a lot — it's her main touring area. She has some great U.K. stories, and will no doubt tell them at the show on Friday! (And no doubt that I am, of course, getting lots of advice from her while we're on the road together.) Looking forward!
Rita Hosking and Rachel Harrington will be in Hood River for a house concert on Friday, March 26, at 7 p.m. For more information call Paul Blackburn at 387-4011.